Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “The End” (Lost)

“The End”

Aired: March 23rd, 2010

[Cultural Learnings’ Top 10 Episodes of 2010 are in no particular order, and are purely subjective – for more information, and the complete list as it goes up, click here.]

Last year, in making a similar list, I put Battlestar Galactica’s “Daybreak” on it, and as one would expect it proved somewhat divisive. The fact of the matter is that I loved the poetry of the BSG finale while acknowledging some of its shortcuts, and in many ways the controversy surrounding it only made it more likely to find its way onto a list like this one; my investment becomes stronger when I feel as if there is a groundswell to reject the finale entirely based largely on principles of television viewership which I don’t entirely understand. This is not to say that I start a crusade to change their minds, but rather that I become very interested in discovering where they’re coming from.

It’s almost scary how much of a carbon copy the reaction to “The End” has been for me. Last week, when Dan Harmon snuck in a dig at Lost’s sense of “payoff” in the Community Christmas episode, watching my Twitter feed’s reaction was a microcosm of larger opinions: some laughed along, the joke confirming their pre-existing dismissal of Lost’s conclusion, while others became legitimately angry at the off-hand dig. Personally, I laughed, but only because I don’t feel as if I am particularly defensive of “The End” (even if I totally understand why some people are).

I loved “The End,” which should be obvious considering that it’s on this list, but I love the fact that people hated it perhaps even more. I think that Lost, as a television series, will be remembered not so much for its story but for how its story was told; as a fan, this disappoints me, but as a critic and scholar it makes the series’ legacy far more important to the future of television. “The End” was a finale that was never going to please everyone, and so Lindelof and Cuse’s decision to not even bother trying was admirable, reckless, and ultimately one of the most affecting episodes of television of the past year.

The sixth season of Lost has problems – while there were still standout episodes, all of them seemed to be caught up in the “mystery” of the Flash Sideways. Through its first three seasons, the show’s mystery structure operated on the same level for the characters as it did for the audience, but the fourth season changed that with the introduction of the flash forwards. However, there the mystery was clearly defined: it was Point A to Point B, and the show was simply filling in the gaps to figure out how our heroes would become the Oceanic Six.

By comparison, the Flash Sideways were mystery without purpose, at least on the surface. And what makes me admire “The End” so much is that it actually goes so far as to suggest a purpose: throughout the season, I think I had decided that I didn’t care what the Flash Sideways were, and I was just going to take them as thematic narrative counterpoints which would shed light on the ongoing action, but Lindelof and Cuse chose to at least broadly define their function. It was a ballsy move, one which I think everyone needs to respect even if they didn’t care for the result.

I still sort of consider the Flash Sideways more a device than a reality, a convenient way to give John Locke a proper goodbye after the ignominious circumstances surrounding his death and to help exaggerate the shift in Claire’s character during the whole Squirrel Baby period, but that it was given a deeper allegorical meaning was a huge risk. And when I think back on the sixth season now, I find myself struggling to actually put the pieces together, to figure out just how the various events in the season coincide with numerous elements within its final arc, and so in some ways that risk does create inconsistencies within the series’ narrative.

And yet, while it may not have given the season the cohesion we desired, I never once felt betrayed by “The End.” While some reject the finale for its failure to adequately respond to the series’ central mysteries, I embrace it for very much the same reason. While I spent parts of the season more fascinated than entertained by the series, with episodes like “Across the Sea” proving more interesting to write about than to actually watch, the finale turned off the mystery: it was about parts coming together, about characters realizing the role they were meant to play or the role they had played in their past. It was about the joy, elation and tragedy of community, of the sacrifices we make to protect those we love and the ways in which the life we lead will carry on with us into our future (whether that future is a light-soaked afterlife or just, you know, next week).

Some have claimed that efforts to differentiate between mystery and character on this show are reductive: you can’t say it was just about the characters because the show clearly functioned as a mystery and used it to drive the plot. Whereas others have claimed that to reduce the show to its mysteries is just as reductive, and that dismissing characters (and simply making them machinations of that plot) is equally problematic. Perhaps what makes “The End” so divisive is that it so clearly tried to define what Lost was: it was about the experience, about the things these men and women went through on that crazy island, and about the intersection of various narratives of life and love amidst a mythological framework. This might not be your Lost, but it’s what Lost was to the people who made it, and seeing that was as much of an ending as I honestly needed.

And while the critic in me reveled in the post-episode dissections and the divergent responses to Cuse and Lindelof’s decision to indulge in spirituality, the fan in me was just really happy. Even as I write this piece, and even as I find that the sixth season is more incomprehensible than I even remember it being, never has it felt like those moments of emotional connection experienced within the finale have been taken away from me. The notion that “The End” ruined the entire experience of watching the show for is the one response that I simply do not understand, the one that comes closest to shifting me away from my critical objectivity into a vehement defense of the series’ motives.

However, even if it did ruin the entire show for some people, this only proves what this post most broadly represents: “The End” was one of the most powerful episodes of the 2010, love it or hate it, and for that I believe it should be commended.

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “Top 10 Episodes of 2010: “The End” (Lost)

  1. miguel

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  2. My issue with the finale was never that it didn’t sufficiently address the “what is the island” questions (I was perfectly content with the fact that it did not). My issue was that the reveal of what the Sideways was had no connection to the preexisting mythology or metaphysics of the show. I’d have had no inherent objection to an ending based on emotion, or an ending based on spirituality… if it somehow had at least one foot in anything — anything — that had come before.

    No matter how weird the show got, no matter how much each season sort of reinvented what the show was “about” for that season, it was always built upon what had come before. The final season, and the final episode, weren’t.

    The minor betrayal I felt at the finale was based on that. On the notion that the series creators simply couldn’t be bothered to end the show in any way connected to what it had built over the prior seasons, and simply shoehorned in an entirely new metaphysical realm at the last minute, to be able to deus ex machina an ending of emotional completeness.

    Mostly, to me, it felt like a final admission from the creators that they had no earthly idea how to get themselves out of the show.

    • ninjaraiden2k

      My interpretation of the show was that the “monster” was connected to the “Source”. When John looked into the “eye” of the Island (Walkabout), he saw something beautiful.
      When John asked Eko what he saw in the “monster” (The Cost of Living, S3), Eko said he saw darkness, where John said he saw a “bright light”.
      The “light” or the heart of the Island was corrupted by mankind’s greatest sin, brother vs. brother (Across the Sea).
      That corruption was healed by the community of the Oceanic 815ers. The bright light at the end of the show represented this healing by their metaphysical essences( Jacob’s Mother: “A piece of this light is in every one of us). A returning to the Source of a ll things, so to speak.
      Smokey represented the corruption of humanity (and by extention, existence’s corrupted nature). The Survivors “purged” that metaphorical monster and were able to move on in the metaphysical realm free of that corruption that they destroyed.
      John Locke was a prophet. For me, he saw what made that light beautiful, human connection. And he did everything in his power to maintain that family, even if he didn’t understand his purpose fully.
      The sideways represented “Live Together, Die Alone” on symbolic terms. The healing processes that they started in life (with each other) were completed fully in metaphysics without Smokey’s corrosive hinderance. Thus they did not “Die Alone”, but moved on “Together”.
      For me, the sideways universe was reasonably supported by Lost’s overall theme of personal redemption aided by the collective.

      • I don’t dispute its thematic connection. I just found it to be metaphysically out of left field instead of based on metaphysical groundwork previously laid, and hence a bit of a surrender to lazy writing.

        • ninjaraiden2k

          I totally see your point. But I would argue that time jumping, the metaphorical nature of Jacob and Smokey, and the Island moving through time were left field situations that were barely hinted at in Season One. Could any of us have guessed the nature of Smokey beforehand?
          However, I would say that the fact that there were ghosts in the Lost universe could have set precedence for otherworldy storytelling. Ghosts are metaphysical after all.

    • Jen

      Actually the final 10 minutes of the show was written 6 years earlier (when they wrote the pilot), and not one single thing was changed when it came time to film it. So from the moment Jack walked into the church until the show ended was planned and scripted from the very beginning, they always knew exactly how it would end. Not everyone liked it, some absolutely hated it, but it was not a last-minute scramble to figure out how to end such an epic series.

      • Evamarie

        That’s not true. Remember when they wrote the pilot, Jack was originally supposed to die. He only survived because test audiences rebelled. The episode was planned later on, after a couple seasons, when they decided on an end date at the end of season 3.

        • Jen

          You are right that Jack died in the original version of the pilot. But Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have said in interviews that the final 10 minutes of the series was written at the same time as the pilot (the version that aired), and they did not change one thing when it came time to film 6 years later. I’m not sure if Matthew Fox was told the ending when the pilot was filmed, but he’s said he knew what the end was quite early on too (and as far as I know he’s the only cast member that was told before everyone else got the script for the finale).

  3. I loved The End. That final shot was perfect. Not even the “plugging the sink” bit could make me not like that final shot.

    (Somewhere in my blog’s draft section is a half-written post comparing The Beatles’ music to The End… I may just revisit it.)

  4. Budo B.

    The trouble with the finale is the fact that it could have still been virtually a million different things, all the way up until the final ten or so minutes. The entire show’s run lead to the moment when Jack enters that church, and I enjoyed everything it stood for and the fantastic moments it offered. But as it suddenly became clear what was going to happen and what the actual ending was, my mind just started screaming: “No… noooo…. NOOOOO! NO!” Every fiber of my being rejected it for everything it was. It hasn’t really ruined the whole show for me, but I feel it will be years before I can see a single episode, even the best ones, without getting a horrible feeling in my gut…

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  6. Jess

    No matter what you say about Lost, you will cause people to be unhappy. It strikes me that much of that is because the show requires so much interpretation. Usually, we are force-fed meaning by overacting, over-telling, over-directing, and so forth. No thought required, no personal investment required beyond caring for a character or waiting for a story loop to be resolved within its time slot. Instead, Lost was a lesson in how interpretation is an evolving, personal thing – think back on what you thought of Sawyer in the first few episodes of Season 1 and how you ‘defined’ him at the end, for example. So, in some ways, when you say you loved ‘The End’ (as I did), you are effectively telling other people (in their minds) that they were wrong not to like it — to interpret it as they did. That’s not your intention. It was not the show creators’ intention, either. But I think we struggle most when we are set free of a story’s borders of meaning. The one thing I think we could all agree upon, though, is that Lost and its writers were much more interested in asking questions than giving answers. Leaving it up to the audience, for me, is one of the most courageous acts they did as television storytellers. The dissatisfaction people found in the ending tells me more about the people who feel that way than it affects my experience of or the meaning I took from it.

  7. belinda

    For me, I had set myself up for disappointment throughout the season because at least, for the mythology parts of the show, it was clearly going in a direction I didn’t want the show to go in way before the finale. (And of course, after Across the Sea, I knew that for sure.) So when the finale came, I knew I wasn’t going to be satisfied even if it was the best episode ever, because there’s an entire section that I know I won’t like.

    But, what I am satisfied with(well, for the most part, if I don’t think too much about it), are the characters (other than Jacob, who I never took to, I guess that might say something about me that I’m “team MIB” all the way) and their personal arcs, and for that, I think the finale did the series justice.

  8. Eleanor (undeadgoat)

    I felt that “The End” definitely came out of the “weirder” parts of the Flash Sideways; it also reminded me why I detest the idea of a heaven so much–because I hate the idea that you can say “So anyway Juliet was Sawyer’s One True Love and Jack was Kate’s and they will be together in heaven forever.” I really liked that that love quadrangle was messy and only resolved by death and you were never quite sure if Sawyer would fall for Kate again. (Also, I REALLY don’t like that whole “In Purgatory Daniel has a relationship with his father and half sister because, you know, your biological father is totally the most important person in your life,” thing, it reminded me of that awful Mormon “family is destiny” theme in Twilight but that is a different rant.) I would much rather that it had been an alternate universe created by the H-bomb, though. And back to that whole “True Love Sucks!!!!!!!” rant, I do like that we got to see Sayid reunite with Shannon and Claire reunite with Charlie, because love was so good for those characters and then just ripped away entirely, by the way, but I still feel sorry for dead!Nadia, because Shannon gets him forever and ever and she gets to hang out with, like, somebody else or whatever. I’m so glad God’s not real, holy shit you guys.

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  10. trippdup

    RE: People who claim the finale ruined the entire experience.

    I read an interesting article recently that was (broadly) on this subject with the conclusion that when people make a statement like that what they really mean is that it ruined the MEMORY of the experience for them, tainting it with a negative association. Since the memory of an experience is all you get to keep, it can seem as though having that damaged is the same as damaging the entire experience.

  11. Evamarie

    I agree totally, Myles. The ending was beautiful and while if you had asked me beforehand if it was what I wanted, I might have said no. Watching it, however, it was exactly what I needed. People today demand too many detailed explanations of every tiny thing. The only “mystery” I would have liked more detail on is how the people would die from childbirth, but in the past, Juliet delivered a baby. I guess it was the incident, but the woman in Across the Sea seemed to imply that babies were hard to come by in her eagerness.

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